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Dry and windy conditions lead to increased Western MT Spring wildfires

9 Mile fire
Posted at 5:02 PM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 19:59:25-04

MISSOULA — While many of us have enjoyed the warmer recently, those temperatures with the wind have caused trouble for some prescribed burns.

If it has seemed drier than usual to you these last few months, you’re in tune with Mother Nature.

Other than February, the last six months -- including April -- have featured below-normal precipitation, oftentimes coupled with warmer temperatures.

This has led to an increased number of fires according to Predictive Services Fire Weather Meteorologist Coleen Haskell.

“We’ve seen some drying here in the last six to eight weeks, we’ve been in this pattern where we’ve seen more episodes of wind, and we also saw a fire break out in western Montana that was 25,000 acres in March," Haskell noted.

The Frenchtown Rural Fire District has seen a big increase in springtime fire activity compared to recent years.

Department spokesman Mel Holtz says spring fire season can be deceptive because it lacks the intense heat of summer.

“Our fuels are really dry, grasses out there are really dry and so while homeowners are out there burning on their property or cleaning out their property, conducting some debris burns, we’re seeing the wind pick up and it doesn’t take much to carry that debris burn and spread that out of control where the fire department has been called in," Holtz said.

As long as these dry and often windy conditions are in place, Holtz says it’s important to pay attention to the forecast before burning. He suggests burning early in the day if possible and having a plan in place should conditions get tricky,

“Having the proper tools; having a garden hose, having a water supply as well as having tools shovels and rakes that if it were to get out of control, get out of your containment area you can quickly get that back in with water and with tools," he advised.

Long-range forecast models are projecting the potential for a wetter weather pattern one to two weeks out which should help suppress fire starts as we head into May.